Cultural crimes are basically the crimes that take place within the context of culture or under the head of it. As we all know, recently there has been a spate of honour killings which has shocked the country. Honour killing is one of the types of cultural crime present in our country.
An honour killing is the homicide (murder) of a member of a family by other members as it is believed that the victim has brought shame or dishonour upon the family or the community he/she belongs to. Honour killing usually is committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family. However men can also be the victims of honour killing. The term ‘honour killing’ applies to both men and women in cultures that practice it. The distinctive nature of honour killing is the collective nature of the crime that means many members of an extended family or community plan the act together and commit the crime.
Honour killing are directed mostly against women and girls. According to statistics, honour killings have been reported in Northern regions of India mainly in the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It is prevalent to a lesser extent in South India and the Western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. In West Bengal, honour killings completely ceased about a century ago due to active steps taken by reformers.
There are various reasons why people or family members decide to kill the daughter in the name of preserving their family honour. The most obvious reasons are refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their family, having sex outside marriage, being rape victim, dressing in a way which is viewed as inappropriate, renouncing a faith etc.
Sociologists believe that the reason why honour killings continue to take place is because of the continued rigidity of the caste system. Hence, the fear of losing their caste status through which they gain many benefits and earn a respect in society make them commit this heinous crime. The other reason why honour killings are taking place is because the mentality of people has not changed and they just cannot accept that marriages can take place in the same gotra or outside one’s caste.
The other side of the story points fingers towards the role played by Khap Panchayats in honour killing. These pachayats are self driven set ups that have gained wicked popularity for having paved a way for honour killing. Boycotting families from villages that chose to allow their children to get married by their choice and supporting the families in honour killing are some of the main activities of these panchayats.
The unlawful laws of the Khap panchayats are imposed through social boycotts where the victims are killed or forced to commit suicide. All these inhumane activities are done in the name of brotherhood and honour of the community. Love marriages are considered a taboo in these areas. In the famous ‘Manoj Babli’ honour killing case in June, 2007, the defendants were convicted for honour killing for the first time. This killing was ordered by a Khap Panchayat in Haryana on 30th March, 2010. For the first time in Haryana state history, a death penalty verdict was announced in this double murder case for the five accused.
It is important to note that honour killing is not specific to India only. It continues to be prevailing in other parts of the world too. Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) show that honour killings have occurred in countries like Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda.
‘Honour killing’ is a recognised form of violence against women in international human rights law because it violates women’s right to life and security and as well as every other article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Honour killings also violate the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against woman (1979).
This convention has been signed by 185 countries worldwide, by over 90% of the members of the United Nations including most countries where ‘honour killing’ occurs. India is also a part of the signatories.
In India, honour killings are homicide and murder which are serious crimes under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The perpetrators can be punished as per Section 302 of the IPC. The members as well as the community can be prosecuted under Section 302 of IPC. Apart from this, honour killings also violate Articles 14, 15(1) and (3), 19, 21 and 39(f) of the Constitution of India.
On the other hand the Supreme Court in a judgement on 19th April, 2012 has termed the Khap panchayats illegal and has directed the State Governments to take strong measures to prevent any atrocious acts by the Khap panchayats.
Alarmed by the rise of honour killings, the Government of India assigned the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to collect data on honour killings since January 2014. The Law Commission has submitted its 242 report titled as “Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances” and has recommended for bringing a legislation, namely “The Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliance Bill” to curb the social evil of the caste councils/panchayats interference and endangerment of the life and liberty of young persons or marrying partners belonging to the same gotra or to a different caste or religion.
The need of the hour is to check such incidences with full force. The problem must be tackled at several fronts. Firstly, the mentality of the people has to change. When we say that the mentality has to change, we mean to say that parents should accept their children’s wishes regarding marriage as it is they who have to lead a life with their life partners.
The government too should make sincere efforts to educate the people and formulate the policies thereby strengthening the governance of rule of law. There is a need for media to lend a hand in creating local awareness about the horror of honour crimes. One must keep a thing in the mind that humans do not have the right to write down death sentences of innocent human beings merely on the basis of choices they make in their lives. Therefore honour killing is not justified and it should be stopped with immediate effect.